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For years it has been known that eating foods with artificial trans fats has serious health effects. It has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and risk of early death, diabetes, and poorer memory in middle-aged men. Now the results of a study, which followed 1628 older residents of a Japanese community for a decade, found that we can add dementia and Alzheimer's disease to this list.

The researchers measured blood levels of elaidic acid, which is a biomarker for artificial (industrial) trans fats. Those persons in the groups with the highest levels of elaidic acid had higher levels of dementia and Alzheimer's disease after a decade (a linear association - the higher the levels, the higher the incidence), but there was no association with vascular dementia.

The researchers found that eating sweet pastries, margarine, sugar confections (e.g. candy, caramels, chewing gum), croissants, nondairy creamers, ice cream, and rice crackers were all the strongest predictors of having higher serum elaidic levels in this study. [Notice that margarine, which for years was considered "healthy", is now considered "unhealthy" because of its trans fats.]

The FDA banned the use of trans fats in foods starting June 2018, but there is a big loophole, a really big loophole. Foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats are allowed to be labeled as ZERO grams of trans fats, because they are allowing the companies to round downward. So if a person eats a number of foods per day containing these "minimal" amounts, they add up. And in this way one can wind up with pretty high levels in the blood. [By the way, some countries still allow trans fats. Also, read the interesting story of the man behind the U.S. ban.]

Where are trans fats still found? Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils, as well as in other types of refined oils, monoglycerides, diglycerides and other emulsifiers, and even in flavors and colors. They are found in a lot of processed food (e.g. baked goods, vegetable shortening, vegetable oils, whipped toppings), so read ingredient labels carefully and avoid them. As usual, best are real whole foods . If you see something that you don't routinely have and cook with in your kitchen, then avoid that ingredient. For example, do you have monoglycerides in your kitchen? NO? Then it's an ingredient to avoid.

From Medscape: Trans Fats Tied to Increased Dementia Risk  ...continue reading "Trans Fats and Dementia"

Years ago I would see large flocks of birds in my yard - all sorts of songbirds and up to 40 robins at once. Year by year the numbers slowly started diminishing and this year there was only 1 lonely robin, no chickadees, no titmice, and no sparrows. A recent study documents that same finding, that bird species are in serious trouble and their numbers are in free fall in the US and Canada. About 3 billion birds or a 29% decline since 1970! This decline in bird numbers includes common "backyard" bird species such as sparrows. Yup, this confirms what I am seeing.

Similarly, recent studies found that there are tremendous declines in the numbers of insects, including bees and butterflies. Yup, this is also what I am seeing in my yard - only a few butterflies (and no monarch butterflies), and hardly any bees. All these declines are an indicator of environmental health and it is not good.

What can one do? For starters, we need the elimination of lawn pesticides in suburban areas, more insect-friendly flowers and plants, more milkweed (for monarchbutterflies), and fewer pesticides used by farmers, communities, on the sides of highways, etc. Pesticides kill. Think of it this way: Pesticides can give you and your pets cancer and other health problems, but weeds (wildflowers) can't.  [One example: Years ago I sent in a dead bird (1 of many that I was finding) to be analyzed by a wildlife pathologist, and he found that it had died of pesticide poisoning.] Ban or don't use lead bullets (bird lead poisoning). Also, do all you can to preserve open space - to be kept as park lands protected from development.

Excerpts from Science Daily: US and Canada have lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the past 50 years

A study published today in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats -- from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows ...continue reading "Have You Noticed Fewer Birds In Your Neighborhood?"

A new large study found that eating a flavonoid rich diet is associated with a lower risk of death. Flavonoids are compounds found in abundance in plant derived foods and beverages, such as fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, legumes, and red wine. The study followed about 56,000 people in Denmark for 23 years and found that eating higher levels of flavonoid rich foods was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause (all-cause mortality), heart disease (cardiovascular disease), and cancer.

The researchers found that there was an inverse relationship (the more one eats, the lower the risk of death), and that this relationship was strongest among cigarette smokers and people who consume high amounts of alcohol (more than 20 grams per day). Bottom line: Make sure your diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dark chocolate (yes!).

By the way, while other studies do find a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer in people eating a diet rich in flavonoids, in this study they were not looking at who got the diseases, but looked at deaths. Therefore the following title is misleading. It should instead say "... protects against cancer and heart disease deaths..." From Science Daily: Flavonoid-rich diet protects against cancer and heart disease, study finds  ...continue reading "Eating Foods Rich In Flavonoids Has Health Benefits"

We love plastic, and use plastics in basically everything. However, with time and wear and tear, plastics are worn down, and little plastic microparticles are released into the air. These microplastics are less than 5 mm (millimeters) long - about the size of a sesame seed or less. Studies are finding them everywhere, including our drinking water, in seafood, all sorts of foods, the dust, and the air in our homes and workplaces. And of course microplastics wind up in our bodies (whether ingesting them through food and beverages, or breathing them in so that they go to the lungs). No one really knows what effects they have on human health, but studies are starting to find harms to animal health.

Well...  now there is another cause for concern. A new study finds more than expected amounts of microplastic particles in remote parts of the world (the Alps and Arctic!) where no one expected to find them in large amounts. The German researchers report that the main types of plastic microparticles they found were from varnish, rubber, polyethylene, and polyamide (nylon). The particles are transported through the atmosphere by winds and air currents. View it as air pollution. Bottom line: As humans continue to use more and more plastics, and more gets released into the air, this means we all will absorb more and more microplastics with still unknown impacts on health.  Ultimately we all will have to address this issue.

Excerpts from The Atlantic: A Worrisome Discovery in High Arctic Snowfall

In just the past decade, scientists have discovered that microplastics—defined as any plastic detritus that’s about the size of a sesame seed or smaller—are a major new pollutant, the spread of which we’re only now understanding. Microplastics are present in 94 percent of tap water in the United Statesaccording to one study. They form as larger plastic items—toys, clothing, paint chips, car tires—get worn down and torn to shreds ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Found Even In Arctic Snow"

The Paleo diet has been around for years and yet it continues to be controversial. The debate is whether following the Paleo diet long-term has health benefits or not? Supporters of the Paleo (Paleolothic) diet say it promotes gut health and is good for gut microbes, but recent research findings are a strike against this claim. The Paleo diet is based on the hypothesis that humans have not adapted to eating products of agricultural farming such as grains, dairy products, or legumes (beans), as well as all processed foods, so they should be avoided. Instead it stresses eating meat, fish, eggs, nuts, (some) fruits, and vegetables.

So what were the new research findings?  Australian researchers found that people who had been on a Paleo diet for more than a year ate lower amounts of resistant starch, and so had a different bacteria profile in the gut - with lower levels of some beneficial species. They also had high levels of a biomarker in the blood (trimethylamine-n-oxide or TMAO) that is linked to heart disease.

The problem seems to be the lower intake of resistant starch - which is a carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine. As the fibers ferment they act as a prebiotic and feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. More than one type of resistant starch can be present in a single food. And what foods contain resistant starches? Precisely some foods avoided in the Paleo diet: grains, rice, beans, peas, lentils, plantains, and green bananas. A number of studies find health benefits (e.g. gut health) from eating foods with resistant starches.

From Medical Xpress: Heart disease biomarker linked to paleo diet

People who follow the paleo diet have twice the amount of a key blood biomarker linked closely to heart disease, the world's first major study examining the impact of the diet on gut bacteria has found.  ...continue reading "Problems With Paleo Diet?"

Did you know that you are eating teeny tiny bits of plastic in your food every day? And inhaling the pieces floating in the air? These tiny bits of plastic are called microplastics, and are from all the plastic breaking down (degrading) in the environment. They have entered the food chain (e.g. from fish and other animals ingesting bits of plastic, food preparation, or from plastic packaging), and in this way we are also ingesting microplastics. They vary in shape and size, but some pieces can be so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. The problem is that microplastics can enter our body several ways (through ingestion get into the gut and so get into human tissues, or through inhalation into the lungs). They could trigger an immune response, or the plastic could release chemicals, such as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, the health effects from microsplastic ingestion are unknown.

A study by Canadian researchers looked at all available evidence from 26 studies to try to get some idea of how many microparticles of plastic Americans ingest over one year. The researchers estimate that annual consumption of microplastics ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex). When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water).

These numbers are for about microplastics found only in certain foods (fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, honey, alcohol) that add up to about 15% of the diet. But the number of microplastics in other foods (such as fruits, vegetables, meats, grains) have not been studied. The researchers point out that we ingest microplastics that are in the air and settle on our food during meal preparation and during meals. So the actual numbers of microplastics that are ingested each year are certain to be much higher! [Microplastics are even in our house dust.]

What can one do to lower the number of microplastics that we eat? Number one, drink tap water or bottled water in glass bottles, and less water from plastic bottles. Since no one knows about how many plastic particles are in other foods, one possibility may be to eat more foods and beverages that come in glass containers, rather than plastic containers. As the researchers point out, microplastic research is still in its infancy. They also felt that since this study only looked at certain foods, then they really underestimated how many microplastics Americans ingest each year.

From Science Daily: Americans consumer 70,000 particles of microplastics per year    ...continue reading "Americans Ingest More Than 74,000 Microplastic Particles Each Year"

Are you aware that other countries do not recommend all the tests and screenings that medical specialty organizations in the U.S. recommend? Medical panels in different parts of the world may issue guidelines that vary from U.S. medical specialty guidelines, and sometimes even conflict with them. This is happening even though all groups in various countries are looking at the same medical evidence on which to base recommendations.

This is because in the United States (unlike European countries and Canada) there is a fee for service medical system - the more tests, screenings, and procedures, the more a doctor is paid. Conflict of interest? Bias? Of course. Does it make for better care for patients? Based on the evidence - no.

Interestingly, independent medical groups in the U.S. (such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) that don't have financial interests in the medical services at stake recommend guidelines that are more in line with Canadian and European country guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an "independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine".

As many have pointed out, the approach recommended by medical specialty groups of more and more tests and screening leads to  overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and increasing health care costs. There also is specialty bias - which means whatever the physician is trained in, they are biased toward recommending those treatments and procedures. [Similarly, Dr. John Mandrola has written about the issue of employers evaluating physicians on the number of tests and procedures done (with the more, the better the evaluation), and on the harms that can result from screening, tests, and procedures.]

Dr. Ismail Jatoi (Univ. of Texas Health) and Dr. Sunita Sah (at Cornell) have written a thought provoking article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about these issues with a call to reduce these conflicts when medical organizations give medical guidelines. The panels should be multidisciplinary in composition, independent of specialty societies, and avoid fee-for-service conflicts of interest.

From Science Daily: Medical guidelines may be biased, overly aggressive in US ...continue reading "Why Do Medical Guidelines Vary So Much?"

Could this be true for humans - that antibiotics can treat endometriosis? A nicely done series of studies found that treatment with the antibiotic metronidazole reduced both early growth and progression of endometrial lesions. Also, the researchers found microbiome (community of microbes) differences in endometriosis vs healthy  subjects. The researchers felt that the research results suggest that gut bacteria promote endometriosis progression, and that the antibiotics worked to stop the progression of endometriosis because it reduced specific gut bacteria.

Endometriosis is a chronic condition causing abdominal pain and infertility and afflicts up to 10% of women between the ages of 25 and 40. Unfortunately, current treatments , including hormone therapy and surgery, have serious side effects and do not prevent recurrences. So a study finding another treatment approach is exciting. But...before everyone gets too excited, keep in mind that the series of studies were done in mice, but... the researchers of the study are optimistic that this could be true for women also. And yes, the Washington University School of Medicine (in St. Louis, Missouri) researchers are going to  conduct a large clinical trial to test the antibiotic metronidazole in women with endometriosis.

From Medical Xpress: Antibiotics may treat endometriosis

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found, in mice, that treatment with an antibiotic reduces the size of lesions caused by endometriosis. The researchers are planning a large, multicenter clinical trial to test the drug metronidazole in women who have the painful condition.  ...continue reading "Could Antibiotics treat Endometriosis??"

Recent research is finding scary amounts of a new tick in Staten Island (a borough of New York City). The Asian longhorned tick (or Haemaphysalis longicornis) was only discovered in NJ in 2017, and now it appears that it is spreading rapidly (Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, NY, Conn, Maryland, Pennsylvania). This tick is a native of east Asia (Japan, New Zealand, Australia, etc.), and transmits a number of diseases and infests livestock in eastern Asia.

It is especially worrisome because females can clone themselves. This is because the tick is a parthenogenetic species, meaning that the females can lay and hatch eggs without needing to mate with a male. Each offspring is essentially a clone of the mother tick.  This means that they can be found on animals in really large numbers in varying stages - thousands of ticks on one animal. (The photos are horrifying.) The ticks feed on a wide range of mammals and birds, so it is expected to spread rapidly.

The authors of the study say that the ticks can tolerate a wide range of environmental temperatures ( 28°F to 104°F or −2°C to 40°C ), although they are most successful in moist, warm-temperate conditions. But note that the NYC metro area (which includes Staten Island) always, always has temperatures lower than that every winter! So... it can handle lower temperatures just fine. Unlike deer ticks, this tick can be found in the grass.

According to the CDC, as of March 25, 2019, no harmful germs have been found in the ticks collected in the United States. But researchers are worried about the possibility that soon they will carry the diseases commonly carried by ticks (Lyme, etc.) in the United States. If you find this tick on a person or pet - remove the tick as quickly as possible (the usual tick advice).

Excerpts from Science Daily: New Yorkers brace for self-cloning Asian longhorned tick

Staten Island residents have another reason to apply insect repellent and obsessively check for ticks this spring and summer: the population of a new, potentially dangerous invasive pest known as the Asian longhorned tick has grown dramatically across the borough, according to Columbia University researchers. And the tick -- which unlike other local species can clone itself in large numbers -- is likely to continue its conquest in the months ahead.  ...continue reading "Be On the Lookout For This Tick"

Bug bombs don't work in reducing cockroach infestations. At all. A study comparing bug bombs vs gel baits found that while big bombs didn't reduce German cockroach numbers, the baits did. And on top of that, even when used correctly (according to directions) the bug bombs resulted in a lot of pesticide residue throughout the residences - at 6 hours after being used, and one month later. The technical name for bug bombs is total release foggers. Different brands of bug bombs, with different pesticides,  were used in the study - two different kinds of Hot-Shot No-Mess Foggers and two different kinds of Raid foggers. The gel baits used were Combat Insect Control Systems and Maxforce Gel Bait.

The North Carolina State Univ. researchers pointed out that one major problem with bug bombs is that cockroaches have built up resistance to the pesticides used. Another problem is that their use in residences results in pesticide residues, even one month later. That means that people living there will breathe in or ingest the pesticide residues. Which can lead to health problems.

On the other hand, there was no pesticide residue from the baits in the residences. And they reduced numbers of cockroaches. Using baits for cockroach control is a wonderful example of Integrated Pest Management - a least-toxic way of dealing with pests using various methods (e.g. baits, traps, fixing holes, vacuuming pests). Even though they were not used in the study, one should also consider bait gels containing boric acid.

From Beyond Pesticides: Bug Bombs Don't  Work - At All, According to Study

Bug bombs are completely ineffective at reducing German cockroach infestations, according to new research published in the journal BMC Public Health.  Not only are they ineffective, research indicates that these products are putting people at unnecessary risk.  “In a cost-benefit analysis, you’re getting all costs and no benefits,” said Zachary DeVries, PhD, co-author of the study. “Bug bombs are not killing cockroaches; they’re putting pesticides in places where the cockroaches aren’t; they’re not putting pesticides in places where cockroaches are and they’re increasing pesticide levels in the home.” ...continue reading "Bug Bombs Don’t Reduce Cockroach Numbers"